Growing up in the San Francisco Bay area, I've watched the demographics change from a traditional white Christian populace to a multicultural, multi-ethnic one. Many immigrants are from Asian and Middle-Eastern non-Christian countries. Additionally, I've taught in academia for the last 20 years and have observed many trends in higher education. Attitudes toward Christianity have changed from indifference to outright hostility and resentment---mostly from white secularist scholars and students. They often regard the Bible and its teachings as evil and oppressive. Yet, from my own experience and perspective, many non-Christian immigrants seem to have a more open-minded view of American Christian tradition and Christianity in general. And I cannot express how much I appreciate their open-mindedness.
I don't think God intended for this nation to represent one ethnicity or race. I believe divine intervention has led immigrants from all nations to America in order to gain firsthand knowledge, exposure, and experience to the teachings and doctrines of Jesus Christ. Furthermore, I believe this divine plan is the foundational work for the building of the New Jerusalem in Independence, Missouri. Moroni tutored Joseph Smith in quoting from the 11th Chapter of Isaiah and its message of Israel's return:
And it shall come to pass in that day, that the Lord shall set his hand again the second time to recover the remnant of his people, which shall be left, from Assyria, and from Egypt, and from Pathros, and from Cush, and From Elam, and from Shinar, and from Hamath, and from the islands of the sea. And he shall set up an ensign for the nations, and shall assemble the outcasts of Israel, and gather together the dispersed of Judah from the four corners of the earth" (Isaiah 11:11-12; see also JSH 1:40).
Surely, we live in exciting times! But, what, dear readers, does this have to do with Christmas? Interestingly, many non-Christians in the Bay Area still want to take part in the secular Christmas festivities in the form of gift giving, Christmas trees, lights, music, etc. And in their secular celebrating, most non-Christians must have developed a rudimentary knowledge of the baby Jesus.
When pondering this idea, I feel great joy.
Let me more fully illustrate this concept: Before our children left home, one of our Christmas family traditions was a drive to downtown San Jose where we enjoyed the annual "Christmas in the Park."
Each year, we roamed through the park basking in the Christmas lights, the music, the Christmas displays of Santa, the elves, the carolers, the numerous and varied Christmas trees, and the large Christmas creche.
One year, while standing in front of the manger scene and gazing upon the baby Jesus, I noticed that everyone around me was Asian and Middle Eastern. In that moment, the Spirit taught me: These wonderful people were celebrating and learning---at the most basic level--about the Christ child and His connection to the Christmas season. Peace, joy, and a deep sense of unity filled my heart. Whether or not these people converted to Christianity was not the issue at that time. Still, each year in the city of San Jose, thousands of non-Christians are learning about a baby called Jesus the Christ.
(On a side note, even the atheists get in on the act of "Christmas in the Park." They take advantage of Christmastime inclusivity with their own atheist "Christmas" tree display! Surely, Christ exemplified inclusivity.)
I'll share another example: One year, we invited the missionaries over for dinner. They talked about a Hindu investigator who embraced the idea of a personal Savior and that His name was Jesus Christ. He told the missionaries, "I can't wait to go back to India, and tell my family and friends about Christ and Mormonism." Again, I marveled at this divine design of immigration from "all four corners of the earth" to help spread the gospel of Jesus Christ to the rest of the world.
Regardless, the increasing secularization of Christmas is painful for me. I miss hearing Christmas carols while shopping. I miss the creches in shopping malls. I miss hearing the cheery "Merry Christmas" from store clerks, fellow shoppers, and co-workers. On the upside, consumer demand at Christmastime gives me confidence that Christmas will never be completely erased from our society. And because Christ is so much harder to find in society's version of Christmas, I search all the more diligently for the Savior. And when I find Him, I value and treasure Him all the more. "Oh come all ye faithful, joyful and triumphant" is my Christmastime proverb.
Because of Him, I feel joyful. Because of Him, I feel triumphant. Because of Him, I love this season. And because of God's grace and His magnificent plan, our Savior is the greatest gift to us all. He is the Prince of Peace. He is the prince of my inner peace.